- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) - The way to a donor’s heart might be a big fluffy dog named Alvin.

Shoppers are used to hearing bells ring as the Salvation Army solicits donations during the holidays. However, the chance to watch a dog ringing the bell drew a crowd for a couple hours Friday at Walmart.

Alvin and his human partners, Julia and Steve Roberts, who live between Brownsville and Philomath in Union County, Indiana, attracted generous donors to their kettle, the Palladium-Item reported (https://pinews.co/1yaE3RR ).

Many shoppers had questions about the friendly animal.

Alvin is a 4-year-old trained therapy dog. He’s a Leonberger, a breed of working dogs from Germany that range from 150 to 180 pounds. They are used for water rescue, search and rescue and carting.

“I’ve never seen a Leonberger,” said Diana Flory as Alvin snuggled her for attention. “He’s keeping my legs warm.”

Flory, from Frankfort, Kentucky, was visiting family with husband Michael. “I don’t think we’d be able to get our dogs to do that,” Diana said about Alvin’s bell-ringing.

Steve said it took “about three minutes” to teach Alvin to ring the bell they set up for him. And on the chilly Friday, he just needed a little prompting with treats.

Julia tempted him with tidbits of venison, cheese, cookies and turkey. One shopper gave Alvin a package of treats upon leaving the store.

“I’m trying to keep it interesting,” Julia said.

This was Alvin’s third year to ring a bell for Salvation Army. Last year, the Robertses and Alvin rang bells for a total of 15 hours during the holiday season, raising more than $100 per hour.

“People can’t resist,” Julia said. “That’s the plan.”

Steve added, “People who don’t even like dogs like him.”

Shoppers thanked Alvin for his efforts and showered him with compliments. One patted him and said, “You’re doing a good thing today.” Another said, “It was worth a dollar just to see that.”

Alvin was calm even when surrounded by groups, but he has plenty of practice.

Alvin visits nursing homes and hospitals, bringing joy to patients and staff. Several shoppers said they’d seen him at Reid Hospital.

He also helps in schools with programs ranging from reading to pet care and safety and anti-bullying. Alvin has also worked with autistic children who’ve been resistant at first, but then hugged him.

“More people know Alvin than us,” Steve Roberts said as he handed out baseball cards with Alvin’s picture, statistics, awards and training. Alvin received his Therapy Dog Working Title from AKC in February 2013 and the Leonberger Club of America, along with his AKC Confirmation Championship later that year.

The Robertses said the cards help those who’ve met Alvin describe him to others. Alvin even has his own page on Facebook called Alvin’s Therapy Fan Club, and followers were notified of his bell-ringing gig in advance.

“We say ‘Leonberger’ so much that we’re afraid he’ll think his name is Leonberger,” Steve laughed.


Information from: Palladium-Item, https://www.pal-item.com

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